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Reinventing Scales - Mixotonic
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Brian Huether

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Reinventing Scales - Mixotonic
by Brian Huether

Most of us are content learning the Pentatonic and Major Scales and we use them as the basis of our lead playing. These scales alone inspire infinite creativity. In the same way that we can form arpeggios from these scales, we can also form new scales from them. In essence, we can re-invent scales!

Ok, so what am I talking about? First consider the E Mixolydian Scale shown below:


The Mixolydian Scale is the 5th mode of the Major Scale (see my Diatonic Scales lesson). In the case of E Mixolydian, it is the 5th mode of A Major. The Mixolydian mode has a characteristic sound. I would describe it as somewhat mystical. This is the mode from which Dominant 7th chords are derived. It is this 'dominant' nature of the scale and its associated chords that gives it such prominence in almost all musical genres.

Many guitar players, whether they know the Major Scales or not, often rely almost entirely on the Pentatonic Scales. For instance, the Minor Pentatonic Scale is perhaps the most famous and widely known scale known to guitarists worldwide. It is the scale that is synonymous with Rock. Below we see the E Minor Pentatonic Scale:

By playing the Minor Pentatonic Scale so frequently, our fret hand develops a memory of sorts for the characteristic 2-note-per-string pattern of these scales. Our lead style becomes unconsciously linked to this hand memory. As we play, we are not even aware of how ingrained the patterns are.

Given how comfortable we are with the 2-note-per-string Pentatonic Scales, let's re-visit the Mixolydian Scale and re-invent it in the image of a Pentatonic Scale.

A Scale Re-invented

In the last section we talked about the characteristic sound of the Mixolydian Scale and we discussed the ever iconic Minor Pentatonic Scale, whose familiarity breeds a memory of sorts in our fret hand. In our very own Frankenstein-inspired experiment, let's create a monster. We want this particular monster to have traits of both a Pentatonic Scale and a Mixolydian Scale. In other words we want it to be 2-notes-per-string and we want it to have that cool Mixolydian sound.

When referring to scales, it is common practice to reference everything in terms of the standard Major Scale. We call the notes of the Major Scale 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. The Mixolydian Scale is just like a Major Scale but with the 7th note flatted. So we refer to a Mixolydian Scale as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, b7.

Recall that a Dominant 7th arpeggio is derived from the Mixolydian mode. It is formed by taking the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th notes of the Mixolydian Scale. So based on the above naming convention, we refer to the Dominant 7th arpeggio as 1, 3, 5, b7. Also, recall that Pentatonic Scales are 5 note scales. That means we just have to add 1 note from the Mixolydian Scale into the Dominant 7th arpeggio. We only have 3 choices: we can either add the 2, 4 or 6. After experimenting, we find that adding the 4 gives us what I would call the most Pentatonic-like result. The table below shows us the logical progression from Mixolydian to our newfound creation - Mixotonic!

Mixolydian 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7
Dominant 7th 1   3   5   b7
Mixotonic 1   3 4 5   b7

Visualized from the staff, we have

So just how close does our new scale match up with the Minor Pentatonic? We see from below that it is identical except for the G#. We might call this new scale Minor Pentatonic #2, since the scale is essentially formed by raising the 2nd note of the Minor Pentatonic by a half step. But I personally think Mixotonic is much cooler!

E Minor Pentatonic

E Mixotonic

Putting it All Together

Now that we have our new found scale, let's put it to use. We can simply record a basic rock-blues style chord progression. Instead of soloing over the progression using the Minor Pentatonic, we can use the Mixotonic. The beauty of it all is that we can use similar phrasing and articulation as we are would normally use with Minor Pentatonic. The result is a natural, Pentatonic-like feel.

Chord progression to solo over
Chord progression with improvised lead

Above is just one of a limitless number of chord progressions. I chose some chords that contains notes outside the E Mixolydian and E Mixotonic Scales because I think they add some nice tension. So feel free to use the above backing progression. I recorded an improvised lead part using the E Mixotonic Scale to give you an idea of the possibilities. The lines I play are not confined to the Mixotonic Scale shape shown above. I move to other positions, but still stay within the scale.

I hope you enjoyed this month's article and that you have an appreciation for the many ways that we can take familiar concepts and take them to new places.


Brian Huether Free Guitar Lessons

Other Lessons by Brian Huether

Ear Training - From the mind to the fretboard
Reinventing Scales - Mixotonic
Spanish flavored guitar
Bach Sonata 1: Part 1
Bach Sonata 1: Part 2
Bach Sonata 1: Part 3
Bach Sonata 1: Part 4
Four Play - Alternate Picking Exercise

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